NACOGDOCHES, Texas — What do you get when you add a passion for education and a love of mathematics? Dr. Mark Montgomery, assistant professor at Stephen F. Austin State University.

Four years ago, Montgomery joined the SFA faculty in the James I. Perkins College of Education and since then has been working to break the stereotypes associated with mathematics in his elementary education courses. Often people think they aren’t “mathematics people,” but Montgomery believes these negative feelings are linked to an unpleasant classroom experience.

“These moments can convince us we can’t do mathematics,” he explained. “My moment was in seventh grade mathematics with a teacher who would make fun of me for asking questions. It broke me and my belief in myself as a mathematician.”

In his classroom, Montgomery works to create a positive space for students to learn mathematics and how to teach the subject to elementary and middle-level students.

“Teaching is about relationship building. The relationships between the teacher and students, each student and their peers, students and the content, and the content to its purpose in the real world,” he said. “Creating environments where all of these relationships can flourish so every child feels appreciated and supported in taking risks, learning from mistakes and building understanding is critical for developing effective problem-solvers.”

At the beginning of each semester, Montgomery asks SFA students to identify with one of the five emojis he has in the room. Whether students stand by the smiling or crying face, this gives Montgomery an idea of how each student feels about mathematics.

“Once students realize many of their negative feelings came from outside forces and not from a lack of ability, it becomes freeing. They are often able to let go of their anger at mathematics and begin to repair the relationship,” he said.

Before teaching college students, Montgomery worked as an elementary teacher, middle-level mathematics teacher, instructional specialist and district instructional technologist in schools in Oklahoma and Texas. He holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and a doctoral degree in curriculum and teaching from Baylor University, both focusing on mathematics education.

At SFA, he teaches mathematics methodology courses to both elementary and middle-level teacher candidates and supervises pre-service teachers in a field experience course focused on mathematics and science instruction.

“I want my students to understand that if they want to inspire their own students, they must realize the power they have over the children’s own belief in themselves and the impact that their decisions can make on the student, both during the school day and at home” he said.

Recently, Montgomery was recognized with an SFA Teaching Excellence Award for being an outstanding faculty member for the James I. Perkins College of Education. This award is based on knowledge of subject matter, quality of lectures and assignments, enthusiasm for teaching, interest in and availability to students, commitment to continuous improvement, and contribution to the quality of teaching at SFA by assisting and encouraging other faculty members.

Montgomery believes in the power of education and the important role of teachers.

“Educators throughout my life have seen something in me that I did not see for myself. This feeling is something that keeps me drawn to education as a career,” he said. “Education is more than a profession, it is a calling to serve my students, their future students and my community as a whole.”